Campaign for Senate in District 32 pits well-known candidates Both represent voters in the area

Campaign 1998

October 14, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

With two well-known candidates vying for the votes of residents they have both represented for four years, the District 32 Senate race could be one of the closest State House races in the county.

The match-up pits District 2 Councilman James DeGrange, a Democrat, against incumbent C. Edward Middlebrooks, a former Democrat and District 2 councilman who won his Senate seat in a 1994 upset.

DeGrange and Middlebrooks have significant name recognition, and neither attracted primary challengers. DeGrange had raised more than $160,000 by September, to Middlebrooks' $33,875.

In the scramble for voters, Middlebrooks is trying to paint DeGrange as a homebuilder who is friendly to developers. DeGrange points out Middlebrooks' 1995 bankruptcy filing.

'A real dogfight'

"It's going to be a real dogfight," said Mike Shylanski, president -- of the Greater Severn Improvement Association.

"It's a hard, hard choice. I don't see any issue really that stands out that people are going to latch on to."

The association does not endorse candidates.

Shylanski and other voters who live in both District 2 for the County Council and in District 32 for the legislature will have to choose between two men who have represented them over the years.

District 32, which is larger, includes Linthicum, Glen Burnie, Severn, Maryland City and parts of Millersville. District 2 includes Glen Burnie and parts of Millersville and Severn.

Turnout called key

The outcome could hinge on voter turnout in the legislative district, which has more Democrats than Republicans, said Helen R. Fister, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Central Committee of Anne Arundel County. Of nearly 51,000 registered voters in the district, 27,000 are Democrats and 17,400 are Republican, according to September figures from the county Board of Supervisors of Elections.

"Mr. DeGrange has a pretty good reputation on the County Council, and Mr. Middlebrooks has a very good reputation in the Senate," Fister said. "It could be very close."

Middlebrooks, a lawyer known as a scrappy challenger, is no stranger to close races.

After a switch to the Republican Party in 1994, Middlebrooks won the Senate seat held by three-term incumbent Michael J. Wagner by fewer than 1,000 votes, a 4 percent margin. Wagner '' outspent Middlebrooks more than 10-to-1.

By September of this year, DeGrange had spent five times as much as Middlebrooks.

Without clear-cut differences on issues, the politicians have turned to trading barbs, though indirectly because they aren't to meet face to face until a candidate forum in Crofton this month.

In a recent interview in his Glen Burnie law office, Middlebrooks accused DeGrange, who owns a company that has built one house, of having a conflict of interest as a council member who oversees the county's office of Planning and Code Enforcement.

DeGrange, whose family lum- ber business closed in 1995 in the face of competition with national chain stores, scoffs at that charge, saying he has avoided conflict by not applying for subdivision approval and recusing himself from any votes that might affect his properties.

Bankruptcy issue

DeGrange points out that in filing for personal bankruptcy in 1995, Middlebrooks listed among his nearly $700,000 in debts, $31,000 in unpaid federal income taxes and a $17,000 student loan.

Middlebrooks said the bankruptcy filing was caused by poor real estate investments, not fancy living, and is a closed issue, irrelevant to his ability to be a legislator.

Both candidates are drawing on the wisdom of former county politicians as they jockey for position.

Wagner, who picked DeGrange to run for Middlebrooks' seat in 1994, said he is advising the longtime Glen Burnie community leader behind the scenes, but in ticking off what he calls the

strikes against Middlebrooks, he still sounds like a candidate.

"We're running against what he said and what he did," Wagner said in an interview in his office at Michael's 8th Avenue. Blaming his defeat in 1994 on the shift toward the Republicans across the state and country, Wagner said this year will be different.

"I think what's going to win this election is people are calmed down this election, and they are not as emotional against Democrats," he said.

Middlebrooks has at least one Democrat in his corner, his longtime mentor and Wagner rival H. Erle Schafer, a former councilman, state senator and Circuit Court clerk who runs the county's drug court program. He said Middlebrooks is better known than DeGrange outside Glen Burnie.

DeGrange plans several mass mailings before the Nov. 3 general election but is relying more on an extensive door-knocking effort. DeGrange, 49, a Glen Burnie resident, said he and volunteers have knocked on 13,000 doors in the past several months.

'Facts, not fiction'

"We're going to run a good campaign on facts, not fiction," he said. "It's just going to come down to a choice between two candidates."

Middlebrooks, 43, a Severn resident, said he is keeping up his regular schedule of attending community meetings, at which he points to his opposition to the expansion of light rail into Glen Burnie and his push for security measures such as cameras on the trains.

"I have tried to be visible," he said. "That wasn't true under the prior regime."

Pub Date: 10/14/98

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